Michigan head coach Brady Hoke and South Carolina boss Steve Spurrier traded quips in their last meeting with the media before tomorrow's Outback Bowl. Both noted it gets serious on New Year's Day.
"We really think our kids had great work and great focus, and at the same time enjoyed everything the Outback Bowl does for the teams," Hoke said. "That being said, I think Coach and I are both ready to go play a football game."
"We haven't had any distractions," Spurrier added. "We haven't read where you [Michigan] had to send anybody home, we haven't sent anybody home, everybody's made curfews. We've got two mature teams getting ready to battle out there tomorrow."
Both coaches also downplayed the conference aspect of the game, noting the pride their own squads have in competing one more time this season.
"When the ball is kicked off, it's our 11 guys against their 11 for three hours," Spurrier stressed. "All the hype of Michigan-South Carolina, SEC-Big Ten, this, that, and the other, it's who plays the best that day. That's probably who is going to win the thing, who plays the best tomorrow."
"The media makes more out of it than we do," Hoke noted. "As coaches, you're coaching a team. We're both proud of our conferences, but at the same time, there are going to be 11 guys on the field for South Carolina and 11 guys on the field for Michigan, and they're going to go compete."
Both coaches expressed pride in their squads, Hoke focusing on the veterans and the changes they've had to undergo in their careers, including one in the head coaches' office.
"The class from last year's team and this class, you [respect], because of the coaching change," Hoke said. "The direction, the philosophy, all the things that go along with that, from the ground up, building a foundation of a program, what you want it to be. Yeah, I've got a lot of respect. I feel really privileged to be those guys' football coach."
Meanwhile, Spurrier praised his players for raising South Carolina football to a different level than what it has known historically.
"The senior class is the winningest in school history, by a long shot," Spurrier said. "They've got 37 [wins] right now, in their four years, averaging a little over nine a year.
"They've set some goals and gone after them. We didn't hit all of them. We didn't win the SEC, but they did win their division. They've won a bunch of games, won the state championship a bunch of times, as we all know. They've accomplished a lot. They want to win this one. They want to go out a winner, just like the Michigan guys want to go out a winner."
Going out a winner will depend heavily on quarterback play for both teams, and the two spoke about their respective situations. Hoke noted it's pretty much status quo for the Wolverines, from the end of the season until now.
Meanwhile, Spurrier amended a statement the other day that gave the impression the duties were almost up for grabs between primary starter Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson.
"Connor Shaw has been our starter," Spurrier said. "I always sort of believe you should tell one guy it's his game, unless he gets hurt or it goes terribly wrong and you have to make a change. But Connor has been our starter pretty much all year. We feel he's 100 percent healthy.
"So right now, we're going into it that it's his game. This is your game, let's go. Don't worry about making a mistake and getting jerked out or anything like that. Dylan is going to play, though. He's going to play in there somewhere. I just believe it's important to tell one guy, 'Hey, you're going to be the quarterback, as long as you play well.'
"We're hoping Connor plays about all the game. He's done that off and on for about two years now. He's been our starting quarterback and think he deserves to go into it with the [attitude of] it's my game, let's go."
Junior Devin Gardner is Michigan's primary QB for the game, but senior Denard Robinson will also slip behind center and play other positions, Hoke noted.
"It's how we ended the year," Hoke said. "Devin will be the starting quarterback, and Denard will play some quarterback. It's how we finished the year, the last three ball games, is how we'll play it out.
"Everything is possible with him, athletically. He won't punt, but
At which point, Spurrier playfully interjected: "Kick off?"
And Hoke answered: "Not very good at that, either."
Spurrier was also asked about the Jadeveon Clowney-Taylor Lewan match-up, and how Clowney has handled showdowns against elite left tackles, such as the Michigan redshirt junior.
"He's handled himself pretty well," Spurrier said. "He's handled himself being a first-team All-American in every poll, every service. He's really our only All-SEC first-team guy
offense and defense. He's been our star player.
"He's pretty good one-on-one against pass rushers. I don't know what Coach Hoke's got planned for him. I guess we'll find out tomorrow, won't we?
"A lot of teams have left a running back on his side, sometimes put an extra tight end standing up over there. The last team we played always tried to slide their protection over toward him, to always get a guard and a tackle maybe helping out.
"We've got ways of moving him around and all of that kind of stuff. We'll see how it all plays out."
Asked about his running backs situation, Hoke cautioned that the starting assignment would be completely situational.
• Spurrier raised some eyebrows when asked about the bowls, in light of one national championship game and a host of lesser events.
"A lot of these bowls are sort of made for television," he said. "Obviously, there is nobody in the stands at a lot of them, hardly. A few. You can understand that. But football is a sport that people like to watch on television. If there's nobody in the stands, that's okay, I believe is the thought, as long as people are watching on television."
Hoke cast it as bowls being a reward for what the players have accomplished.
"For the players, it's the opportunity to play one more game, one more time, and to be able to come to Florida," he said. "We've got some guys on our football team who have never been to Florida. It's been a nice little experience for them.
"At the end of the day, it's about competing to win. And for us, we talk so much about and believe so much in our senior class, it's trying to send them out the right way."
• Spurrier also downplayed the impact of bowl practices on serious development for the future.
"A lot of talk, always, is that if you're in a bowl game, you get to work the younger guys for a month or so," Spurrier said. "We work them a little bit, but the guys who aren't playing in the game, they're almost looking forward to the offseason. They've practiced for four and a half months, and they're not going to play in the game.
"I think you always get the best work for them in spring practice, when they know, all right, my time is coming. As coaches, there is so much involved with just the guys who are going to play the next game. That's the way I am. It's hard to look that far down the road. As soon as this game's over, we'll start looking at the guys and replacing the senior players."
Hoke liked what the Wolverines were able to accomplish in the pre-Florida workouts.
"Especially early in the preparation, there are some guys we've worked with a little bit and rested some of the older guys," Hoke offered. "There are a bunch of those defensive linemen and offensive linemen that have gotten some really good work.
"Jehu Chesson, a wideout, has really done a nice job. We're playing a lot of that class also, but when you look at us, up front, on both sides of the ball, that's where we've had to make the biggest gains in recruiting and everything we're trying to establish and build as a foundation for our program. We gave those guys a lot of work early."
• Asked about Michigan's efforts versus top defenses this year, Hoke turned the conversation to the Wolverines' last 30 minutes of offensive football, ones he didn't like.
"Experience in anything always helps," he said. "When you look at preparation, [look at] how we played in the last game of the year. We didn't play very well, especially in the second half, at all. Experience is important, but every game is different and every team is different. We're going to have our hands full tomorrow. We'll find out."
• Asked about redshirt junior defensive tackle Quinton Washington by a South Carolina writer, Hoke was more than ready to praise the big man from that state.
"He's such a great kid," Hoke mentioned. "He does what he's asked to do, works extremely hard. It's been a really good place for him, Michigan has. He's done a really nice job in continuing to improve as a football player. You couldn't have a better kid on your football team as a person, and with his passion to go out and play."
Washington also factors into Michigan's biggest area of improvement over the course of the season, Hoke explained.
"We had to replace three seniors who were pretty good football players," he said. "Guys like Quinton Washington and Will Campbell who'd played limited snaps, now they're the guy. How you prepare when you're the guy who has got to be counted on, how you prepare to be a starter, is a little bit different. That's probably where we've made the most gains."
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